Tips for Cooking a Turkey

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Tips for Cooking a Turkey Good Cheap Eats

Cooking a turkey is something that has become what of a sacred act for Americans every November. One might never cook a turkey any other time of the year, but come what may, turkey must be served on Thanksgiving Day.

Cooking Methods

How to Cook a Turkey – Is it your first time cooking a bird? Check out this post for a comprehensive overview of what tools you’ll need, the planning you’ll need to do, and some helpful links.

I happen to love turkey breast, so I have no qualms with this unwritten rule — with some modifications. But, for Turkey Day, itself, when I want to enjoy time with my family, particularly the out of towners, I’m leaning toward cooking  Turkey Breast instead of a whole turkey.

Tips & Gadgets

Instant-read thermometer: Whichever method you choose, you’ll want an instant-read meat thermometer. Testing the internal temperature of the bird is the only truly accurate way to know that it’s been cooked enough.

There’s a small notch in the side of a standard instant-read thermometer. Make sure you’ve inserted it until the notch is covered. You also don’t want to hit bone or an air pocket (like with a whole turkey). You want to measure the temperature of the meat.

Since the dark meat takes longer to cook, you’ll want to measure the temp of the dark meat. If it’s done, the whole bird should be done. Insert the thermometer into the thigh, parallel to the bird. There’s a great explanation of this over at The Kitchn.

roast whole turkey

Turkey Lifter: I once tried to lift a turkey out of the roasting pan with a spatula and a pair of tongs. What happened was that the turkey kinda came apart, drippings splattered all over me. And turkey bits may or may not have splattered all over my mom’s kitchen cupboards. A turkey lifter, or roasting rack with handles, will help you eliminate this fun experience.

Don’t worry. You’re really not missing out.

A fat separator: If you’re going to make homemade gravy with the drippings, and you ARE going to make homemade gravy with the drippings, you’re going to want a fat separator. This little pitcher helps you to grab the good stuff, the drippings, and leave the fat behind.

Turkey Recipes:

What’s your best tip for cooking a turkey?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Cecee says

    My best tip for cooking a turkey is LEAVE IT ALONE!!!! Once you put the lip/ aluminum foil tent on it let it be. I don’t “baste” my bird or open the oven until its done. The more you leave it alone the better it will be!

  2. Nancy says

    I have the butcher “butterfly” the turkey–that is, cut out the back bone. Then I can crack the breast bone and spread out the turkey flat. It cooks faster and more evenly, so the breast doesn’t dry out. This method is also called “spatchcock.” I keep the back bone that the butcher has removed and include it in the roasting pan and in the stock pot.

  3. Sandi says

    Cook the turkey breast-side down. The reason the turkey breast gets so dry sometimes is that all the juice drains out of it. Cooking it breast-down keeps the juice in the breast meat. I sometimes turn it over for the last 30-45 minutes, just so that skin can crisp up, but otherwise I put it in and leave it alone. It’s so moist and juicy, it is hard to believe it is white meat. (Yes, we are dark meat fans here. :))

    Mom likes to cook hers overnight. You put it in the oven at 300 for an hour-ish, then turn it down to 165. That is the temp you want the bird to reach, so it will not be overcooked if you just let it cook at that temp all night long. Get up in the morning and voila! I’ve done it that way a few times, but usually fail to plan far enough ahead and thus am still thawing mine out the day before so can’t bake it yet.

    • The overnight method is not recommended, as the bird will spend a longer amount of time in the “danger zone” for bacterial growth. Salmonella is so rampant right now that I wouldn’t risk it.

  4. Nia says

    Complete amateur here, as you’ll all be able to tell from my next statement. My first turkey was cooked semi-frozen. I didn’t know you’re SUPPOSED to thaw completely before cooking. I wasn’t about to ask for any help so I could get 50 different answers on how to PROPERLY cook my bird. Anyway it cooked several hours, was slathered and basted in margarine- see amateur, so it was just fine. And not dry by the way. After that, though, I realized I didn’t like fooling around with turkey and rubbing stuff under the skin, on the skin and what have you. I decided from then on the crock pot would be my bird’s best friend. Years late this was even more true because we began buying only breasts due to having a hard time finishing all that dark meat from a whole turkey!

    • You know what, in all the years of cooking whole birds, the best, juiciest ones were those that hadn’t completely thawed. Happy accident is what I call that. 🙂

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